Stan Chap­man has taught many of the greats of Cape Bre­ton tra­di­tional mu­sic

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY EL­IZ­A­BETH PAT­TER­SON news@cb­

Stan Chap­man has taught many of the greats of Cape Bre­ton tra­di­tional mu­sic.

It does seem some­what ironic that the man who taught some of this is­land’s best known tra­di­tional Cape Bre­ton fid­dlers was born in New Glas­gow and now lives in Antigo­nish.

But Stan Chap­man, 71, grew up in a home where his fa­ther loved the mu­sic of Win­ston (Scot­tie) Fitzger­ald and other giants of Cape Bre­ton tra­di­tional mu­sic. Chap­man went on to be­come a school mu­sic teacher and, along the way, he also gave pri­vate lessons to such well-known tra­di­tional play­ers as Natalie MacMaster, Ash­ley MacIsaac, Wendy MacIsaac and Stephanie Wills. He is presently a part-time lec­turer in cul­ture and her­itage at Cape Bre­ton Uni­ver­sity. The Cape Bre­ton Post caught up with Chap­man just be­fore he led a tra­di­tional mu­sic jam ses­sion at CBU ear­lier this week.

How long have you been teach­ing: Oh my gosh, I’ve been teach­ing fid­dle, started out pri­vately in New Glas­gow, Nova Sco­tia, around 1973, so what’s that - al­most 50 years I guess.

What keeps you go­ing in it: I like it. I like teach­ing. I was ac­tu­ally a school mu­sic teacher and I’m re­tired from that for 13 years, but I like fid­dle mu­sic and I like teach­ing it. It’s fun. It’s not re­ally a job, not for me.

You’ve had some rather fa­mous stu­dents: I’ve been lucky. A lot of my stu­dents came from an en­vi­ron­ment where they heard fid­dle mu­sic a lot — maybe their par­ents played or I heard one story where a girl told me her mother would put the tape recorder on with fid­dle mu­sic for 24 hours a day ... It’s an en­vi­ron­men­tal thing — they were ex­posed to it like a lot of Cape Bre­ton kids. So, I’ve been lucky that way. It’s not just me, it’s the en­vi­ron­ment. But I did what I could to help them out.

What sets those peo­ple apart: Again, maybe it’s the en­vi­ron­ment. They learn to like their mu­sic. I know some of them, I heard sto­ries where some of them, I think it was Ash­ley MacIsaac, used to grab the fid­dle be­fore he even went to school in the morn­ing. He just wanted to play. It’s just the de­sire to do it.

So de­sire is the most im­por­tant thing: Oh yeah. And again, it comes be­cause they’ve heard it since they were very, very, very tiny.

You must play a role here too, ob­vi­ously there’s some­thing that you have done: You have to try and teach them things. You want them to play in tune, I al­ways wanted them to lis­ten a lot to other fid­dlers. I did teach a lot in the be­gin­ning by us­ing read­ing, but I like teach­ing by ear too be­cause

that’s the way you learn the style and so, yeah, I tried to help them out in many ways. If I heard some­thing that wasn’t quite right and I use the word right be­cause in Cape Bre­ton fid­dling it’s a broad spec­trum of the way you play. There’s a lot of in­di­vid­u­al­ity in the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of tunes. One per­son might play a tune one way and some­body might play it an­other way —I would never say that the two of them have to play the tune the same way — like in the clas­si­cal or­ches­tra, ev­ery­body bows to­gether be­cause they have to — they bow to­gether and they put what­ever or­na­ments or what­ever things, they play loud in one part or soft in one part and have to fol­low that pat­tern but ev­ery­thing is more by ear with Cape Bre­ton mu­sic in in­ter­pret­ing the style.

Do you have roots in Cape Bre­ton? Not re­ally. No. My fa­ther was from up around Amherst. I was born in New Glas­gow.

I tried to rec­tify things by mar­ry­ing a Cape Bre­toner. She’s from Washabuck and she’s re­lated to the MacKen­zies and the Barra MacNeil and they’re all rel­a­tives. But my fa­ther moved down to New Glas­gow prob­a­bly in the 1940s and he started hear­ing Cape Bre­ton fid­dle tunes on CJFX ra­dio — they opened in 1943 I be­lieve — so he started hear­ing things like Win­ston (Scot­tie) Fitzger­ald and An­gus Chisholm and these guys. He got re­ally in­ter­ested so at a very young age his record­ings were in our house and he was buy­ing books of Cape Bre­ton fid­dle mu­sic so in a way I didn’t live in Cape Bre­ton, but I was get­ting ex­posed to that par­tic­u­lar style.

Who are some of your stu­dents: Ash­ley (MacIsaac), Natalie (MacMaster), Wendy MacIsaac, Stephanie Wills, there’s a whole bunch. I’ve been lucky.


Stan Chap­man, left, takes part in a jam ses­sion at Cape Bre­ton Uni­ver­sity for Celtic Colours In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val ear­lier this week led by Rachel Davis, a former stu­dent, right.

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